Tag Archives: Accessibility

Acknowledging Traditional Territory

First peoples have existed for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans settlers. It has been their custom to acknowledge each other’s traditional territory, and this protocol still exist today. It is important to recognize that Frist Nations, Métis and Inuit have unique relationships with Canada. They hold sovereignty over their traditional territory and are diverse groups with their own histories and culture.

For example, my mother was born in Shoal Lake #4, whose territory extends between the Province of Ontario and Province of Manitoba. Shoal Lake #40 is part of Treaty 3 and of Ojibway heritage. It has been over 100 years since Canada expropriated Shoal Lake #40 reserve land and the City of Winnipeg built the aqueduct which displaced the community to a man-made island. It has been over 20 years since Shoal Lake #40 has been on a boil-water advisory. The boil water order was issued by Health Canada and it requires all community members to boil the water before consumption. When I speak at schools in Winnipeg to raise awareness, many students don’t realize the significate burdens that Shoal Lake #40 carries in providing Winnipeg with fresh water. In recent memory, nine people have died crossing the water or thin ice to access homes. Thankfully, after many years of advocacy and resiliency, in June 2019 Shoal Lake #40 will open their all-seasons road. This road will save lives and restore an economic future for the community.

Acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ territory is a small way of showing respect and recognition of Indigenous people. I encourage philanthropic organizations to reach out to Indigenous people in a respectfully way by including Elders and knowledge keepers to understand the traditional territory where their offices are located and work together in developing proper acknowledgements.

For example, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Manitoba Chapter at Winnipeg events acknowledges the Treaty one traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Dakota and Oji-Cree nations and the homeland of the Métis. My sincere hope is that we can move beyond acknowledgments and together find meaningful ways to support the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action.

Sharon Redsky is AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

Navigating subtle meaning of words and feelings

Sitting around the table discussing the meaning of words, their power and how important it was to analyze the context of when and where such words were used was a favourite of my bonding times with my mother when I was growing up. She would share the content of her classes with me, while she was a university professor in my hometown in Ecuador.

Growing up with an acute awareness of the power and meaning of words turned me into a conscious communicator and from an early age, an assertive person. I also learned early on the real meaning of the words chosen by people when they were trying to assert power.

At the same time, that awareness made me shy to share what I really thought in many circumstances, fearing to hurt someone else’s feelings.

I remember being brought into the midst of a conflict between my high school friends to solve their misunderstandings; nothing that a little bit of context, word review and meaning, and acknowledgment of feelings would not solve.

Fast forward to my first newcomer/migrant experience and such knowledge had to be quickly put to use. When I would hear an offensive word directed to me or other racialized persons, I repeated to myself “Isabel, remember the context, and you are new to this context. Keep learning, keep calm, continue to be assertive and move on”; resilience was the end game.

It was not only about the words, but it was also the feeling of uneasiness to which I could not attach a word or meaning. I still had to learn so much about bias and discrimination, and in a different language; English.

Bringing that experience to the fundraising profession is another story. As a street fundraiser, while I studied in Madrid in the early 2000s, I thought I had rejection and bias figured out. When you do street fundraising, you know that rejection can be blunt, but add the layers of your skin, your accent and the context of sub-urban Madrid in my case. Hitting my targets was hard, but I did it! What other proof was needed that I could handle rejection?

That proof was not enough when in England after getting down to the final two candidates for that amazing entry-level position at the high-tech company or the management fundraising position at my dream NFP; over and over and over again, the feeling of uneasiness brought me back to square one and made me feel as though I did not belong.

Or the time when in a major donor steering meeting, as tasks and responsibilities were distributed to deploy the major giving strategy, the director lists them all including that I will be limited to clearing tables and washing dishes in a joking manner.

How about the awkward time spent in a networking event where I actively engaged with people, when I aimed to present myself as a strategic leader, accomplished professional and was looking to identify opportunities for collaboration, but instead could not get past explaining to others about my ‘background.’

It felt like there was little I could do to change those situations I would come across in those exchanges, but internally I was changing, and I was burning out.

It has taken many years for me to attach meaning to the words and feelings that bias and discrimination use to present themselves. And mostly it has been possible because I have opened up and found allies and spaces like the AFP Inclusion and Diversity fellowship where I have engaged with people open to discuss and embrace those uncomfortable feelings.

This fellowship has not only been a catalyst to further attach meaning to feelings and words, but an opportunity to also assess my moving and relative privilege, an exercise all of us should undertake as we navigate diverse communities and societies.

As a fundraising professional, I write and speak to build connections and empathy that call for action towards the causes I serve, but most importantly I communicate to move us closer to transformative change.

With this piece I hope as a newcomer to the fundraising profession or as a veteran in it, you felt connected, especially if you have gone through similar life experiences. Please speak up and share them safely; your story can change others’ stories and help them avoid burn-out.

If my experience seems ‘alien’ to you, but still you believe you are and can be an ally for inclusion, I invite you to exercise respectful curiosity and to step into the uncomfortable zone to explore the relativity of privilege.

I cannot promise you will find all the answers to your curiosity, but you will move out of fear towards a sacred space of acknowledgement of your own and others’ dignity. And along the way, you will make the fundraising profession a safer space where all of us who journey through it can belong.

What does Truth and Reconciliation mean in the philanthropic sector?

As a relatively new member of the Association of Professional Fundraisers, I wanted to gain better insights on how the philanthropic sector understands Truth and Reconciliation. It was through a small questionnaire that I set to do so, and I am grateful to all the participants who completed it and shared their responses with me. This blog presents two of my project’s key findings.

Philanthropic sector has a role

I was pleased to learn that all respondents to the questionnaire felt that the philanthropic sector does have a role in contributing to the work of reconciliation. When asked if they felt satisfied with the philanthropic sectors current action, many felt that more action is required. They also identified the need for additional education and awareness. However, an important step is learning the truth of Canada’s role in the creation of residential schools and a deeper understanding of the long term impact this has on Indigenous people and communities across the country. It is my hope that individuals and organizations will make this kind of education a priority. Many resources are accessible from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, Reconciliation Canada and the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

Impact Investing and the recognition of Indigenous voices

Most participants identified as impact investing and the recognition of Indigenous voices as an areas where the philanthropic sector could make the biggest impact. Building on this, is the rise of Indigenous led organizations across the country who are responsive to community needs and provide cultural appropriate services. There is a great opportunity to bridge the work of Indigenous led organizations with the philanthropic impact investment efforts. A good example is the Winnipeg Foundation, who distributing 1.3 million in reconciliation grants to 20 projects that are Indigenous led and some that demonstrated authentic engagement with the Indigenous community. In addition to foundations, many individuals contribute in meaningful ways, one such person is Jennifer Roblin. I met Jennifer while working at a non-for-profit and was inspired by her genuine generosity. Her contributions are not only financial, but she invests her time and energy collecting and distributing winter clothing for Indigenous children and youth living in Winnipeg. While these are just a couple of examples, there are many other ways to contribute to reconciliation, I compiled some in a list in my project’s full report. The report can be found at http://www.afpinclusivegiving.ca/resource/philanthropic-sector-truth-reconciliation/

Reflecting on this project has renewed my efforts in building relationships between the philanthropic sector and Indigenous led organizations to elevate the work of reconciliation.

Sharon Redsky is First Nation member of Shoal Lake #40 and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

Respectful Curiosity

One of the most beautiful approaches to conflict resolution that I have heard recently came from a podcast that I listened to, where the host, Whitney Johnson, interviewed Dr. Donna Hicks on the topic of disruption. (https://whitneyjohnson.com/donna-hicks/).

In this exchange, Dr. Hicks shared stories of her experience exploring the concept of how at the core of major conflicts lay a deep sense of lost dignity. Dr. Hicks is a Harvard professor and has studied and led mediation initiatives for some of the most relevant modern strife and wars around the world in the past decades and uses these experiences particularly around recognition and protection of all parties’ dignity to build cultures of trust in organizations today.

This expert talked about the acknowledgment of lost dignity as a first step to build trust towards peace and reconciliation and how ‘we are all guardians of dignity, and we owe it to ourselves, others, and the greater good to educate ourselves in the inherent value and worth of everyone around us in order to flourish.’

During my reflection on the idea of lost dignity, I was also reading and exploring the concept of ‘respectful curiosity’, a phrase that I coined in a conversation with a colleague around the topic of how diverse communities bear a high burden when speaking out to discrimination and injustice. How they seem to be penalized and how important it was that people sitting on the fence of understanding these issues – including me on many occasions – should exercise the practice of ‘respectful curiosity.’

I am still developing this concept but as I listened to that podcast, the idea of honouring my own dignity and that of others, the fullness of what I feel ‘respectful’ meant finally came into place.

In the social profit sector, we all seek to redress injustices, undo systemic wrongs and ultimately honour the dignity of those who we serve.

My journey to understanding the deep-rooted displays of racial, gender and socioeconomic injustices in the Canadian context has just started, and the only way I felt I could begin to learn has been through curiosity.

Yes, reading, listening to podcasts and lectures can help but, how can you feel moved to act and speak up and stand up to injustice when you witness it if you have not connected with people with those lived experiences?

And how can we connect with others when our structures seem so homogenous that the systems we are immersed in, are not conducive to connect with others with diverse lived experiences. There is so much that individuals can, and would do, for example setting up collaborative teams that reflect the diversity of participants to tackle organizational challenges, if this is an individual driving change in one department without structural support and acknowledgement in the ample sphere of the organization this practice will not be permanent. Therefore it is paramount that structures shift to build spaces for diverse connections.

Diversity, inclusion and access to power in our sector will require individual actions and systemic transformation. So as an individual I call you to move to a space of no fear through respectful curiosity and to step up your actions for inclusion because you have the power to change the system.

So be curious and ask the tough questions. What can we do to make our team diverse?. How can we bring in our beneficiaries into our decision-making process and truly represent them?. Do managers/leaders have the skills to manage talent that is unlike them? Why is this person not at this table? How can we all learn about addressing and including other’s life experiences without judgement? What did we learn from a diversity and inclusion initiative that died out?

Through this questioning, you will be bearing the burden with your colleagues from small minorities and as you do this, you will not only be guarding their dignity but yours too.

Ready, Set, Go: Empowered Employee Engagement in Fundraising

As 2018 came to an end, resolutions swirling around my head, I began considering how to align my work and personal goals for the year ahead. Knowing that my focus in 2019 would be on a balanced lifestyle where exercise was part of daily life, I decided to ask for advice from a marathon-running colleague on ideas… her response was brilliant, “We should form a team and enter a race!” And so began our undertaking.

First, we needed a reason to form the team and a cause to get behind. As our team would be running in Vancouver, we decided that a local project was appropriate, and in looking at the various projects currently underway at Tides Canada we decided to support The Binner’s Project, a project that empowers binners in Vancouver’s downtown eastside through the creation of a circular economy for the local population.

Next we needed a race! Summer time seemed to work best, and we decided to sign up for a race that would take place early in the summer and would welcome participants with different skill levels, so anyone could take part.

With a cause and race, we next needed to empower our future team members in two ways: training and fundraising. The training was easy, we sourced best-practice materials and began having meetups for prospective team members to run together in pursuit of their goals. The hard part was turning those team members into fundraisers and setting personal goals along with personal strategies for raising the funds. I created a brief workshop and action sheet for team members to learn the basics of reaching out to their networks and the importance of asking with confidence through effective storytelling and the momentum of the crowd.

Today, our team is just getting warmed up as we look toward June. Each member of our growing team has the resources that they need in fundraising and physical training to hit the ground running… excuse the pun.

When thinking about how to apply these lessons to your organization, consider how you can make life easy for those who want to join. We often forget when we put our blood, sweat, and tears into projects, that other people are busy with their own projects and sometimes can feel intimidated in taking on something new: the easier we make it, the easier it is for them to say yes. A good checklist for engaged employee giving must include:

  • A cause that is personal to those engaged and being asked to support the campaign
  • A realistic timeline that allows for thoughtful planning, recruitment, fundraising, training, and some extra time just in case!
  • A guide of best practices for the actions you want team members to take on, especially for fundraising related activities
  • A worksheet for team members to check in on, to set goals and assess progress
  • Time to celebrate the victories along the way, on the day itself, and to thank and check in with everyone after the event

Employee engagement is a great way to turn your fellow staff into volunteer fundraisers, and if you can align your fundraising with a personal mission or goal, that’s a true win-win.

Trevor Loke is development manager at Tides Canada Foundation and principal of Trevor Loke Consulting

Invisible Diversity at the Workplace

Searching for my AFP Fellowship project was an admittedly difficult process. Looking in the mirror, I see what others see – a privileged white male – and yet for most of my life, on the inside, I hid and repressed my sexuality out of a deep fear of retaliation from people I loved and cared about. I was intrigued by the relationship between the deep vulnerability I felt with the outward perceptions that people had of me. I decided to lean into the idea.

As I explored project ideas with friends, people would often share their own version of a deeply-held vulnerability that they lived with in silence. In one instance, a person disclosed their HIV status, in another situation someone shared their current struggle with substance abuse… in each case someone related with the gap between the outward presentation of who they are and the challenges of their own unique circumstances.

Previously, in my work as Vancouver Park Commissioner, I worked directly with communities to pass a set of recommendations aimed at making Vancouver the most inclusive city in the world for trans and gender-variant peoples. Learning from that experience told me that an intersectional and community-led – meaning those who the solution is designed to help are the designers of the solution itself – approach was needed in order to be authentic and responsive to real needs.

Based upon my experience, I worked with other staff on Tides Canada’s reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion committee to source the various ways that people can identify within the varied spectrum of invisible diversity as a start to begin exploring ways to address them. We then went out to all staff, inviting them to participate, and engaged with them in discussions about the various ways that we should consider invisible diversity. Our experience generated great response and discussion, leading to the following list:

Class / Economic Status
Wealth
Salary / Income
Inherited vs. earned capital
Economic / job opportunity

Mental Health
Depression
Anxiety
Isolation / Loneliness
Eating-related illness (bulimia / anorexia)
PTSD / schizophrenia / cognitive-related issues
Suicidal thoughts
Autism
ADHD
Memory loss

Sexuality and Gender Identity
Heterosexuality / Homosexuality / Bisexuality / Pansexualiy / etc…
Non-binary gender / male / female /  intersex / 2-spirit / hijra / butch / femme / trans man/woman
Gender reassignment surgery / hormones

Physiological Health
Ability to live independently vs. dependency for tasks/activities
Wheelchairs / walkers / physical access restrictions
Disease / infection / chronic illness
Organ-related conditions (heart, liver, kidney disease, etc…)
Blindness
Deafness
Muteness

Personality Type
Introversion vs. Extroversion
Innovation vs. traditional approaches
Conflict / disagreement style

Cultural Norms
Language / dialect / vocabulary / communication style
Music / food / cultural traditions
Routine / daily practices
Family structure
Holidays / celebrations

Religion / Spirituality
Monotheism / Polytheism / Nontheistic religion / Spiritual practice / Agnosticism / Atheism
Philosophy / ethics

Political Beliefs / Affiliations
Left-wing / right-wing / centrism
Political affiliation vs. no affiliation
Voting rights / privileges
Stances/beliefs about individual issues

Age
Silent Generation / Baby Boomer / Gen X / Gen Y / Millennials / iGen
Life experiences

Marital/Family Status
Children vs. no children
Married/partnered vs. not

Nationality
Citizenship

Education
Access to education (affordability, geography, privilege)
Level of education
Experiences of trauma
Individual vs. intergenerational

I recognize that this list cannot possibly consider all needs of all people, but through sourcing directly from those people who will be impacted by decisions – the staff themselves – we can feel a degree of confidence that the unique ways that people identify at Tides Canada are captured in our list. Our work in this space will continue by focusing on each issue over the course of the year, and engaging staff in conversations about the considerations of each, and how we can make a more inclusive workplace by making practical changes that furthers inclusion for all. Already, thanks to this project, Tides Canada has started the “invisible diversity” subcommittee as part of our work on reconciliation, equity, diversity, and inclusion, to look at ways to bring unseen intersections into our work furthering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

Trevor Loke is development manager at Tides Canada Foundation and principal of Trevor Loke Consulting

If Diversity And Inclusion Is A Hiring Issue, Why Aren’t We Talking To The Charitable Sector’s HR Professionals?

The AFP 2018 Toronto Congress was one devoted to the topic of disruption in the Canadian fundraising profession, and hence the Canadian charitable sector.

The plenary sessions took a deep dive particularly into the issues that women and visible minority candidates face at the job; the prejudice that manifests itself in lower salaries, and fewer opportunities for career progression.

For some of the Executive Directors and the Directors of Development of the charities in the room, this might have been the first time there became aware of the issue.

Or perhaps, this was an additional exposure to the hard statistics that demonstrate how systematic these problems are.

While many speakers spoke of different solutions, e.g. allyship (where a person in a position of privilege and power works in solidarity with a marginalized group), and being aware of unconscious biases, I believed that for systemic change in the charitable sector, we need to thoroughly examine the recruitment process.

Inside the organization, this involves the point-person on Human Resources; outside the organization, this is typically a recruitment agency that is hired to pre-screen candidates (thanks to AFP Fellow Camila Vital Nunes Pereira for this insight). If, as session after session pointed out, there is a problem with recruitment, I suggest that we need to tackle this at the source rather than downstream

Inside the organization, this can be someone with “Human Resources” in their job title, or in others this can be the Director of Administration, while in others, the recruitment process can fall solely on the Director of Development, or perhaps even the Executive Director.

Outside the organization, within the recruitment agency, this can be a specific headhunter or recruiter who runs their own agency or a group of recruiters working together.

To ensure a supply of diverse fundraisers and equitable treatment for all candidates, we would benefit from outreach that also includes these Human Resources professionals or Directors of Administration inside the organization and recruiters outside the organization who might not figure much in fundraising questions, but are crucial in the hiring of fundraisers. Beyond this, it’s also about ensuring that diversity is an important component in the hiring process itself.

And that can mean, in a safe and professional environment, to have a chat with the point-person on the recruitment process and asking them if all the best candidates are applying for the job, or if something about the job advertisement might be putting off applicants, or if enough thought is given to how wide the spectrum is for human interactions during the very artificial period of the interview process.

And that’s not an easy conversation, I admit, especially as the optics is one where a fundraiser might be “challenging” a Human Resources person or a recruiter whose speciality is hiring on making the hiring process more transparent or even through the enquiry, implicitly signalling that things are not right.

But we’ve got to start somewhere.

And I can think of no better place than those crucially involved in the hiring decision and educating them on diversity and inclusion.

Special thanks to AFP Fellow Camila Vital Nunes Pereira for taking the time to provide her valuable comments, suggestions, and edits. You made this a better piece than the one I had originally written.

Truth and Reconciliation and Philanthropy, AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow perspective

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada over a six year period heard testimony from over 6,000 Residential School Survivors from across Canada. In 2015, the Commission released their final reports and 94 calls to action. It is estimated that 150,000 Indigenous children attended the 80 residential schools in Canada. My mother as a young child was forcibly removed from her community and placed in residential school until she was 16. She passed at the age of 49 and I know that she had never fully recovered from her experiences of residential school. Although my family has been directly impacted by the legacy of residential school, we are still strong and resilient. I see this strength and resiliency in Indigenous communities all across Canada.

 

Left to right: Ry Moran, NCTR Director, Sharon Redsky, AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow, Joan Blight, Strategic Philanthropy and Laver Simard, NCTR Project Manager.

 

I do believe that the truth about Canada’s history with Indigenous people is important to share and we all have a role in reconciliation, including the philanthropic sector. As stated in the Honouring the Truth Final report, that reconciliation must inspire Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share.

As an AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow, my goal is to encourage the philanthropic sector to support Truth and Reconciliation calls to action and build a better future for the generations to come. I am encouraged by other AFP fellow members, who have shared with me what their organizations are doing to respond to the TRC’s calls to action.

Wondering what you can do, here are a few suggestions. Be an ally with Indigenous people in addressing inequalities and create spaces for voices to be heard, provide resources or help fundraise for Indigenous led initiatives, and promote the work of Indigenous agencies. Another other way to support the Truth and Reconciliation is to financially support the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre, which was created to preserve the memory of Canada’s Residential School system and legacy. Not just for a few years, but forever.

I had the pleasure to visit the NTRC, along with my AFP mentor Joan Blight. We met with Ry Moran, Director and Laver Simard, Project Manager. I learned so much about rich history, the sacred reasonability to hold onto the truth and their vision the future. As I travel this journey, I will continue to learn and be inspired by spirit and intent of the Truth and Reconciliation.

Sharon Redsky is AFP Inclusive Giving Fellow and development coordinator with Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

References:
http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Final%20Reports/Executive_Summary_English_Web.pdf

How Youth Leadership is Impacting Philanthropy and D&I

Having worked with five non-profits and charities thus far in my early career, I have started to notice that there is a specific type of voice adding tremendous value to the philanthropic dialogue – the unique voice of youth engagement. The truth is, fundraisers in functional roles within charitable organizations cannot do what they do without other voices reaching the donor. I believe that youth ambassadors and youth engagement are critical to the success of charities being effective storytellers and getting their message out there to the broader community.

In my experience working on a number of youth leadership programs run by charities and non-profits, I have met so many youth who are eager to contribute to the organization’s cause and to help raise funds and awareness. I have also had the remarkable opportunity to watch youth from diverse communities or backgrounds step forward to elevate a cause and share their story.

I asked two inspiring youth that I know from my own blind and partially sighted community to share what diversity and inclusion mean to them personally, and how they are contributing to the non-profit and charitable sector.

Meet Jessica Watkin

PhD student at the University of Toronto studying disability, feminist and performance studies. Jessica, who is legally blind, advocates for accessibility and inclusion within the theatre and arts sectors and is actively making change in her community by engaging decision-makers and young leaders alike.

Diversity & Inclusion:

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, I speak for myself and my own experiences as well as my own personal interests. Although I care deeply about the blind community (and continue to fundraise and volunteer within it) I prefer to work in my desired field—theatre—where inclusion in particular for people of all walks of life, abilities, and ideas tends to be in short supply due to a lack of inclusive practices. Not only do I maintain a pedagogy within my academic writing for inclusive theatre, performance, theory, and attitudes but also in my work within the theatre community as I voice my opinions to artistic directors across Toronto. In the past year, I have sat in two meetings with different artistic directors who have heard my ideas on steps that can be taken to make our theatres both on stage and in the audiences more inclusive.”

Charitable & Not-for-profit Involvement:

“I work with a few charitable organizations especially in the blind community. In the upcoming year, I will be co-chairing the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s Centennial Celebration in Ontario leading up to March 2018. I am also helping to cultivate a much-needed space for young blind leaders to collaborate and develop their leadership skills in a day-long summit for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Finally, I am working in tandem with Balance for Blind Adults in Toronto to create a Young Women’s Discussion Group for blind women in our area to come together to share resources and ideas about common issues for women. All three of these projects are important to me because they directly reflect things that I care about within the blind community: celebrating, inclusion of clients and volunteers, youth programming, leadership, young women, safety for women, and personal development. These things matter to me because I can see (pun intended) direct impact from what I do both in the community, with my peers, with coworkers, and in the organizations that I support.”

“Above all, what matters to me in both my involvement in purposeful diversity and inclusion in theatres in Canada as well as the not-for-project projects that I am working on, is that I hold these values and ideals about life close to my chest while going through these projects and that they all challenge me in creative and meaningful ways. This work is meaningful in every aspect of my life, allowing my personal fulfillment to go beyond my own development to affect positive change in a broader sense, and that’s what it is all about, right? – The future of these communities. That is what I care about.”

Meet Kathleen Forestell

MEd candidate at the University of Toronto’s OISE studying counseling psychology. Kathleen, who is legally blind, is a mental health advocate and is passionate about helping people manage their personal well being. She is making change in her community by making sports more accessible and by sharing her experience on her blog “Blindsight.”

Diversity & Inclusion:

“I’m currently working for the Blind Sailing Association of Canada as their Youth Outreach Coordinator. In this role, I run sailing excursions for blind and partially sighted youth so that they can learn to sail in a way that is accessible to them. We have instructors who describe aspects of the boat and steps to take while sailing – and the youth do all the heavy lifting. I’m also involved with a youth group run by youth who are involved with the Foundation Fighting Blindness focusing on peer support, advocacy for accessibility, and leadership development. To me, diversity and inclusion means accepting individuals who are part of a minority group and are often excluded, and creating opportunities for these individuals to participate fully in activities – from recreation and leisure, to employment and volunteering. D&I is essential for these individuals to be happy, successful, contributing members of society.”

Charitable & Not-for-profit Involvement:

“As mentioned above, I’m involved with the Blind Sailing Association of Canada and the Foundation Fighting Blindness – both are charitable and not-for-profit organizations. These organizations advocate for the inclusion of people who are blind or partially sighted and provide opportunities for these individuals to be a part of a community. Having a sense of community provides a support network and helps people cope with daily struggles inherent in vision loss. For me, being a part of this community has provided me with a sense of purpose and renewed my passion for advocacy and creating awareness.”

As I watch young leaders like Jessica and Kathleen share their experiences with accessibility and inclusion – the philanthropic case for support and the impact we’re all working towards feels real. While fundraisers will meet with donors to speak about the value of investing in the next generation’s well being – these youth are actively living that value proposition every day in the work that they do. When youth are engaged with non-profit and charitable causes, sharing their stories, and actually influencing change through programs and services – there is so much potential to elevate diversity and inclusion for people from diverse communities.

I feel so incredibly lucky to be inspired every day by the work that these young leaders are doing – and as someone working in the non-profit and charitable sector, I will do everything in my power to ensure that youth always have a voice.

Photo – from left: Jessica Watkin, Kathleen Forestell, and Amy Soden at Blind Sailing Association of Canada’s Youth Sails program.

Flush with Change

Ideally, organizations and everyday people should be proactive about what they can do internally to ensure an inclusive workplace environment for trans and gender nonconforming people. The movement may be new to some and while others are more familiar – we all simultaneously need to be considering how we can support and advocate for transgender people in the communities we serve. Often this means:what are you going to do about ensuring equality for this topic? How do we learn more so we can understand? How do we share what we already know? This can be as simple as asking questions about the topic in an open and friendly manner, and just listening and being present and ready to engage in a meaningful way.

This blog is intended to highlight thoughts and changes happening in public and private spaces for trans and gender non-comforming people with the intent of opening conversation.

Change is here

The familiar image on washrooms depicting a man in the 1970’s wide leg starched pants and the women in the ironed triangle skirt are being challenged by a third image – half and half of each.

The washroom is a place of privacy, which has become a public debate. Due to the cultural mores of the last 300 years in North America, it is a challenge for some to understand the issues about sharing a washroom. So, together we must educate and be patient in working with bringing the topic forward.

Open the Conversation

In the New York Times, “before the Whitney Museum of American Art moved to its new location in Lower Manhattan, it hosted a discussion about what it means for a museum to be a safe and welcoming space. Providing restrooms for everyone on the gender spectrum was near the top of the list”. Let’s keep this mind – this is NYC a progressive and political savvy city, but how does a small community museum in the middle of Canada begin to open the conversation? What tools are needed? Small steps rather than large leaps are best in educating the public and bringing our viewers/visitors forward with us. The Royal Ontario Museum tested a non-gender specific washroom during the exhibition;of A Third Gender. The ROM provided single stall accessible all gender washrooms since 2015, this is a result of visitor requests and the ROM’s commitment to provide a safe and inclusive space and excellent museum experience for all visitors.

During the engagement of A Third Gender, the two multi-stall washrooms at the ROM near the exhibition entrance were designated as all gender washrooms. This came partly as a result of the exhibition team’s consultations with members of the LGBTTIQQ2S community, conducted in January 2016 in collaboration with the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at University of Toronto. Accessible, viewable prior to walking into the exhibit – which also made a statement of intention that supported the content of the exhibit. Building a team of learners and creating action steps within a safe space is key to change and the conversations required for impact, no matter how big or small the organization.

Flush the Change

The norm of male / female washrooms has been institutionalized in North America for generations. Many people take the availability and use of safe restrooms for granted. When I was Executive Director / Curator at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, our Engagement Officer hosted a Conversation Series on Queer Safe Spaces, and accordingly placed temporary signs on the doors of the washrooms for our guests. Actions speak louder than words, and change occurs one step at a time with meaningful gestures. While it may have been confusing to some people at first to “read” of the temporary sign, when explained – all were supportive.

Lets face it, for some people deciding whether, when, and where to use a restroom is a safety concern, as well as a privacy issue for all of us. Everyone has different needs. A washroom that is gender conforming may affect a person’s ability to work, interact in their community, travel for work or play and generally participate in society as they wish to.

Creating a space of Inclusion

Although an excellent step in the right direction, creating gender-neutral bathrooms is not enough to ensure an inclusive environment for transgender employees and visitors.

According to HRC’s 2014 workplace climate survey and report, The Cost of the Closet and Rewards of Inclusion:

  • 40% hear jokes about transgender people in the workplace.
  • 42% of transgender workers fear getting fired for disclosing who they are.
  • 40% of transgender workers report “fear for personal safety” as a reason for not being open about their gender non-conformity.

A safe work environment that is supportive, open and aware of the issues for others is key, and this requires being able to speak about the issues in a supportive, factual and open manner so others can learn. Building a supportive culture is key. Merely changing the signs on the washroom door is not an inclusive act if the culture or space in which they dwell is not open and supportive.

This is Our Time

My advice is, think about who you are, and what is important to you. Imagine if this were challenged about your identity and who you are. It’s that simple. We all want to be safe and secure and to have the freedom to be who we are. Safe spaces are important for building an open society. Toilets are up for public debate, and it seems a movement is gaining ground on Trans Rights in North America.

We live in a time of change, a space of privilege for some, and others who are fighting for recognition in 2016. We all have a role to understand the issues, and ask questions if we don’t know. Its how we learn and open a conversation.